For the past eight years I have fervently tried to document my grandfather’s deeply inspirational and personal story. Being extremely fortunate to have possessed so many documents and photos, I considered the completion of my university thesis the closing chapter of my research and cataloguing phase.
My grandfather passed away on February 2nd, 2012. Suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease for the past three to four years, his story was slipping further and further away from his memory. By my senior year at Duke, I had three video tapes of interviews and a few binders of copied microfilm of my grandfather’s Holocaust era documents from the United States Holocaust Museum.
On February 4th, 2012, a 2x2x2 box, covered in dust, mold, and clearly showing the wear and tear of decades of moves, storage facilities, and even water damage magically appeared out of my uncle’s closet (having been previously in my grandparent’s cluttered apartment).
Half furious at being unaware of the treasure trove of family history I never knew existed and half excited that I finally found the missing link to complete my grandfather’s story that was rendered silent by Alzheimer’s and his subsequent death.
The photographs, letters, and documents, not once seen by myself, father, uncle, historian, or museum are a new leaf on a previously extinct branch of my grandfather’s story. I can now piece together elements I once thought completely lost: reconstructing a family story before war and murder tore them apart.
Furthermore, I now have access to documents that detail my family’s experience after the war and after immigrating. My grandfather was generally sparse on the details that proceded coming to America. Yet, what I am slowly learning, is his story is far from typical.
I hope this blog serves as a spring board for others in similar situations; those with boxes of family vestiges stored in dusty attics, under beds, and closets. The longer you wait, the more these memories fade.